I’ve figured out why that Twelve Days of Trudy process didn’t work: I need steeping time.
I’ve tried to describe my process to people and I usually get the same reaction that I did from Bob the first time he heard me explain it: “That’s daft.” The best I can come up with is that I know who the heroine and hero are, and I sort of write in their world for awhile, doing snatches of dialogue, sometimes whole scenes, getting a feel for the place. And then when I’ve got about 50, 000 words (on a 100K book), I take the scenes and put them in order and see what I’ve got and try to figure out who the antagonist is and what the goal is, and I move them around and I think. I think about what it means and what they want and why I had to write it and it’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box.
And while I’m doing that, I tell myself the story over and over and over: “This is a story about Trudy who . . .” and at some point it gels. It’s difficult to explain, but the story just starts to get thick. Gelling isn’t quite the word because there’s a point when it turns a deeper color, like a great tea does when it’s steeped long enough. Or like cookies do when they’ve baked long enough that they crunch when you bite into them, but they’re still moist and warm. And there’s a click aspect to it, too, when the pieces suddenly lock into place and it’s just Right. Yes, I know, I’m mixing metaphors, it’s an intangible. But I really know the story’s there when it starts to glow in my mind, the whole thing turns golden in my brain and all of a sudden, I’ve got a world that makes sense and people I care about.
The problem is getting to that point. And I can’t outline to it. I have to listen to the voices talking in my head and write a lot of stuff and then play with it in my brain to get to the click, the gel, the gold. This is why Bob screams, although he’s doing his best to adapt, bless his linear little heart.
But it’s not what you’d call an efficient process. And for somebody like Bob or Terry Brooks who outlines in detail first, it’s a nightmare (I know this because they’ve told me). So I really tried writing to an outline with Trudy—well, you saw me try—and it just didn’t work. I ended up with 14,000 pretty good words, but the story didn’t make sense to me. So I’ve spent the past month walking around thinking about those words, those people, trying to figure out exactly what it was that was important about them, about what they mean and how they fit together and why the Thing In My Brain made me write them.
And now for a brief autobiographical note: Everybody collects something and I collect Mexican folk art. Yes, I also collected Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper and Walking Ware while I was writing Fast Women, but that ended when the book ended. I also had a boatload of snow globes from Bet Me which all went to friends when I was done except for the vintage Mickey and Minnie globe that started it all. That’s different, that’s research, this folk art is just for me. But “Mexican Folk Art” is a pretty wide field, so I focus on three things: alebrijes (wooden animals), antique nichos of the Virgin of Aquila, and low fire terra cotta sculptures of women by Josefina Aguilar. My favorite Aguilars are in her vendor series, six-inch figurines of women with long skirts holding wares in their arms with something sitting on their heads. I’m bananas for these things, so I’ve made it a rule that I can only buy one when I’m so insane for it, that I can’t stop myself. (You can get these on eBay, usually for around $25.) To me, every one of them is a Woman With A Lot On Her Mind, and each one has a story, and I’m pretty sure I see a different aspect of myself in each one. Which brings us back to writing Trudy.
The Josefina Mindful Woman that I keep in my office is there because it nails my creative process. She has a peacock and a cat in her arms—my hero and heroine—and they’re colorful and darling and curled comfortably against her, completely in her control. And then there’s the thing on her head. It’s this insane, wild, screaming monster, tentacles flying in all directions, and it’s colorful and moving and completely disorganized and it’s pretty much what the story in my head feels like before Golden Time. Well, here, see for yourself:
One of the things I like best about this figure, and there’s a lot there to love, is the expression on the woman’s face. She has this screaming thing on her head, but she’s not worried. She knows that if she just lets it be up there, eventually it will calm down and pull itself together and become a thing of order and reason without losing any of its color and energy. She’s not happy but she’s patient, and she doesn’t have her foot on its neck, she’s letting it scream. That’s my process right there, cuddling my weird-ass heroine and hero while the story explodes in my brain as it tries to work itself out. And my goal is to be as patient as this Aguilar Mindful Women during that process, to stop beating myself up because my head is exploding.
But the good news is, the Hot Toy explosion is over and Trudy is crunchy and golden. I can tell you the story now. I have it sorted out. The structure makes sense. I love it.
Of course, my head is going to explode again with Agnes and Mare and Charlotte and Zelda (fingers crossed for Zelda) and now I’m thinking about Petal, but that’s okay because looking at this Mindful Woman figure, I’ve realized something else. There’s a real beauty in that hot, disorganized chaos, that’s where the energy comes from, that’s why the story is crunchy, because the story starts out as a monster I can’t control and makes me learn it and love it before I can finish writing it.
So I’m not inefficient at all. I’m a Woman With A Lot On My Mind.
And depending on what my goddess of an editor, St. Jenderlin, says next week, Trudy is done.